Ryan: Vail autumn, the same and never the same
The creek keeps me company as I bike to the cathedral of Aspens on the Gore Creek Trail. We all know what a strange year it has been. There wasn’t a season-ending party at the top of Chair 4 this shortened winter. There weren’t any songs from Rod Powell spilling from an open tavern window this viral summer. There wasn’t an Oktoberfest horn ringing along the streets this COVID-19 fall.
Autumn has been happening in these mountains for centuries, but for Vail, this is only the 58th Autumn. The virus has changed this annual season, but in many ways, nothing has changed. The leaves are still a yellow vision running down the steep slopes; the sun is still warm as gusty winds blow; the fall scent is still spiced with pine.
This ride is familiar. Smiling teen faces are roller skiing quickly past me, already training for this year’s winter season. The ground squirrels are scurrying across the path in front of me. The crunchy sound of aspen leaves beneath my tires fills my ears.
As I glide to a stop at the crest of the hill and look down at all the yellow aspen leaves strewn across the path, I am reminded of a similar day a few years ago. A beautiful Sunday morning when I was in this exact spot and saw Pepi Gramshammer coming on his bike from the opposite direction. I was surprised when he stopped at the crest directly across the path from me and said hello. He wasn’t saying hello because he knew me. I’m sure he didn’t. He was just being friendly and catching his breath.
Pepi was a larger-than-life person to me as I grew up in the valley. He helped establish this valley with his grit and determination. I didn’t know him well and hadn’t talked with him since I returned a decade ago. That morning we chatted for several minutes about Vail and the hotel. He mentioned he would never sell the hotel. He didn’t want to have to pay the taxes.
Then we rode off a few minutes later, going different directions again. I remember feeling how special it was to be able to chat with someone like Pepi … unplanned and spontaneously … and how grand this Vail Valley is.
As I start to pedal off again down the crest, a woman walks past me consciously wearing her mask. I’m instantly brought right back to the current circumstances, but I smile. I know what built this special place will move Vail past this current situation.
It will be determined people like Pepi and optimistic individuals like Rod. People who invest their time, money, and energy in the valley.
Vail isn’t the same without Pepi and Rod, but new entrepreneurs like Rick Hayes and Larry Leith along with the next generation of troubadours will bring the Chair 4 party back, the songs spilling once more and the horns ringing again in coming seasons.
Matt Ryan lives in EagleVail. Email him at email@example.com.
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